Conflicts in fight for water in Central Asia not ruled out in nearest future: Deutsche Welle's Russian service editor-in-chief Ingo Mannteufel

Politics Materials 15 December 2009 18:50 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, Dec. 15 / Trend V. Zhavoronkova /

Deutsche Welle's Russian service editor-in-chief and East Europe department head Ingo Mannteufel spoke in an exclusive interview with Trend .

Q: How do you assess problems of water and energy provision in the region? What is a compromise that could help solve the differences among neighboring countries in the fight for water and electricity?

A: At first glance it seems absurd that the region has problems with the provision of water and energy resources. The initial situation is that Central Asian countries can easily find a compromise. Indeed, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have the water resources. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have large reserves of energy.

It would be logical for these countries together to solve their water and energy problems, including the construction of new oil and gas pipelines for export to China and Europe. This requires long-term agreements and clear mechanisms for mutual settlements. However, national shortsightedness clearly dominates in all countries of the region. I think this is stipulated by the fact that the political leaders of these five countries do not have enough trust in each other to conclude a joint "Water and Energy Union." In general, there is a clear lack of regional associations in Central Asia.

Unfortunately, the Central Asian countries often behave as in Soviet times. Some countries look to Moscow and try to get individual benefits for themselves instead of combining efforts for mutual development. But the only winner in this game is Russia. Depending on the situation it can always implement a deal profitable for itself. In this case, the interests of the entire Central Asian region remain aside. But the situation will not change until the political elites of the five countries are able to find a common vision for solving problems. Clashes and conflicts in the struggle for water are not ruled out in the nearest future.

Q: How do you assess the candidacy of Kazakhstan for chairmanship in the OSCE? In which areas can the country achieve maximum success and why?

A: Kazakhstan will become the first post-Soviet state entrusted with the OSCE chairmanship Jan. 1. It is a great symbolic gesture that cannot be underestimated and overestimated. The fact that the chairman of the OSCE was Greece in 2009 remained relatively unnoticed for world politics.

On the other hand, it is an honor and great responsibility for Kazakhstan. Moreover, President Nazarbayev intends to organize the OSCE summit and must take care of its content in June 2010. The major theme this year can be the so-called "Corfu Process," i.e. a discussion of the security structure in Europe. This issue is a special area of Russia's foreign policy. Recently, President Medvedev issued a draft of a new Euro-Atlantic security treaty. It was reviewed in Europe without any interest as it gives the Europeans nothing new. Kazakhstan may face a difficult task over the next six months to find common ground between Russia's interests, the goals of the U.S. and Europe.

Other topics are Afghanistan and whether the OSCE will manage to work out a joint line to ensure the security and stability in the country.

I think Kazakhstan itself is likely to greatly change chairmanship in the OSCE. A country that stands at the head of this organization takes on special responsibilities for compliance with OSCE standards, human rights and the realization of civil liberties. The situation concerning civil society in Kazakhstan will be considered very closely. Therefore, big changes can occur in this area wittingly or unwittingly.

Q: How do you assess the threat coming from Afghanistan to Central Asian countries? What are the ways to solve this problem?

A: Numerous threats come from Afghanistan to other countries. First of all, they cover neighboring countries, including Pakistan, as well as several countries of the former Soviet Union, especially the five Central Asian countries.

Major dangers include drugs and Islamic terrorism, which are often intertwined. Terrorist organizations use the revenues derived from the production and sale of opium for funding. The danger lies not only in spreading the influence of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups over Central Asia. A much greater threat is the destruction of the political systems of these countries due to increasing corruption. Drug traffickers and organized crime create a favorable atmosphere for flourishing corruption in the Central Asian countries. In its turn, it poses a great threat to political stability. Corruption hampers economic development, undermining public organizations. It aggravates the social situation in the medium term. It is necessary to combat the drug trade. All regional countries must combine efforts to achieve success in this problem.

Q.: What importance does Europe attach to developing gas relations between Europe and Turkmenistan? What prospects do you see for the development of these relations?

A.: Turkmenistan, like Azerbaijan, is a central country for Europe in terms of realizing the Nabucco project. The gas pipeline will pass from the Caspian region through Turkey and south European countries to Central Europe and slacken their dependence on Russia's gas. The project has little sense without Turkmenistan. Therefore, the German energy concern RWE signed an agreement with Turkmenistan to commence gas and oil field exploration near the coast of the Caspian Sea in 2009. If the plans on existing gas or oil reserves are confirmed, RWE will receive a license for industrial production for 20 years. Then, according to the agreement, the license can be extended for another five years.

However, there are many open questions. For example, whether Turkmenistan has sufficient gas reserves to transport them to China, Europe and Russia, or whether Turkmenistan is really interested in Europe as an energy partner, or Nabucco is a lever of pressure for negotiations with Moscow and Beijing. It is still impossible to answer both questions with confidence. Therefore it is difficult to make long-term forecasts.

Moreover, one should not forget that there are serious problems with human rights observance and civil freedoms in Turkmenistan. In general, Turkmenistan is not an easy partner for Europe.